October 27, 2015
How can you tell that the 2015 election is coming, and the 2016 one is not far off? By counting all of the anti-union opinion pieces and editorials floating around, of course.
Case in point: the Sunday, October 25 Opinion section of the Minneapolis StarTribune prominently featured a rail against “fundamentalist” teachers unions and their allies, written by former fundamentalist (by birth, we are told) and current “progressive” proponent of education reform, Lynnell Mickelsen.
Mickelsen’s piece, titled “Political rigidity? The left has it too,” seeks to rip teachers unions and the Democrats that support them–unquestioningly, of course–for, yawn, being, double yawn, opposed to anything that challenges their union-loving worldview.
Still awake? Good, there’s more.
Mickelsen stirringly provides a list of why teachers union supporters (because that’s what they are, of course–nothing more, nothing less) are like fundamentalists. Mostly, it boils down to this: teachers unions and their blind followers are narrow-minded and simplistic, hate change, are old and racist, and will do anything to destroy charter schools.
Here’s an example, from Mickelsen’s piece (capitalization pattern is hers):
“Teachers’ unions are basically claiming Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District, so any change in this tradition — i.e., charter schools — is an attempt to destroy public education.”
Mickelsen, who is an entertaining writer and a fellow education and school board meeting devotee, also decries the way Minnesota’s state teachers union, Education Minnesota, shamelessly funds Democratic candidates and thus exercises mind control over the party faithful:
Education Minnesota is the largest contributor to Democratic candidates and causes. It sets the tone and parameters of our education debates, which, among elected Democrats, are now predictably rigid and scripted — and this concerns a program that consumes 42 percent of the state’s operating budget, affects hundreds of thousands of children and has shamefully racialized results.
Speaking of “predictably rigid and scripted” education debates, Mickelsen’s piece originally showed up on former U.S. Department of Education employee Peter Cunningham’s blog, Education Post.
Education Post was launched just one year ago, with an impressive $12 million in cold, hard, conversation-starting cash. The goal? Providing a space, funded by old billionaire white guys like Eli Broad, to have a “better” conversation about education and how it should be done for poor children of color.
The bummer? It has since struggled to attract readers, leading Cunningham to recently send an email blast to his supporters, advising them on how to Tweet together and otherwise act as a united front:
When we all start sharing together more consistently, we’ll send a strong signal to our followers and friends, the media and the blogosphere, that we want to see more stories that show the positive difference we are making in the lives of children.
There it is! The “sharing together more consistently” thing! Just a few days before Mickelsen’s piece comparing union supporters to fundamentalists hit the fan, Cunningham published a near replica, called “The Best Hope for Teachers Unions is…Reform.”
Cunningham’s pro-“get tough” reform piece appeared on both his Huffington Post site and on Education Post, in a coordinated campaign sort of way.
I’m not sure if the two were comparing notes, but Cunningham’s piece strongly resembles Micklesen’s. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, both pieces harp on remarkably similar (and familiar) points of view: charter schools are amazing, teachers unions are toxic and antiquated, and school choice is the yellow brick road to redemption.
Cunningham’s piece nicely sets the union-bashing stage for Mickelsen’s, through claims such as these:
Charter opponents like to label education leaders who are empowering families’ right to choose as “privatizers.” In their dictionary, public means “union-controlled” and any variation is the enemy.
And here is a similar snippet from Mickelsen’s piece:
In the union narrative, reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy — they must have evil intent. So reformers are typically cast as vague “corporatists” hellbent on the equally vague profiteering from or privatizing of public schools.
Okay, I’m starting to see a rigid, scripted debate forming….
Here’s another tidbit from Cunningham’s post:
Teacher unions, who need unionized teachers and dues in order to exist, are fighting desperately to convince parents to stay with the traditional, district-run schools. But rather than appealing to parents on the strength of the education that traditional schools offer, their strategy primarily focuses on limiting funding for charters,capping their growth or organizing their teachers to join a union.
To quote Mickelsen’s piece, “I could keep listing common traits, but you get the idea.”
In short, unions are really, really bad, charter schools are really, really good, and anyone who disagrees with either of these points of view is a “fundie” not worth listening to.
In contrast, here are a couple of paragraphs worth considering, from New York professor Christopher Bonastia’s 2015 article, “The Racist History of the Charter School Movement”:
By all appearances, charters will remain on the educational landscape for the foreseeable future. While charter skeptics can’t merely wish them away, they can push for greater accountability—after all, isn’t this the whole point of charters? Anyone who blindly accepts that competition will improve education for students in charters and traditional public schools alike should remember that other articles of faith about the market—like cutting taxes on the rich will make all of our yachts and rafts rise—have proven illusory.
…There is no magic elixir that will fix our educational system. Of course, we should continue to be open to fresh ideas about improving school organization, teaching and learning. But if we continue to ignore important historical lessons about the dangerous consequences of educational privatization and fail to harness our desire to plunge headlong into unproven reform initiatives, we may discover that the cure we so lovingly embraced has made the patient sicker.
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